James W. (James William) Buel.

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among his soldiers, a party of whom had secretly seized one
of the brigantines with the intention of escaping back to
Cuba. At the last moment, however, one of the conspira-
tors disclosed the intention of his comrades, and Cortez, at


all times fearful of the results of his assumption of the
gubernatorial position, as already described, determined to
make an example of the conspirators. He accordingly
ordered all the mutineers to be brought upon shore, where,
after a brief trial, the two ringleaders were condemned to
be beheaded. The pilot was committed to the more brutal
penalty of having his feet cut off, while two others of the
foremost sailors received 200 lashes, from the effects of
which they did not recover for several months. But, not
entirely satisfied with the results of his harsh measures, to
prevent the destruction of his disaffected followers, Cortez
adopted a desperate expedient : He was now upon an un-
known shore, in the midst of millions of people, the most
of whom were loyally attached to their emperor, and who
by combination might easily accomplish his destruction.
But, dismissing all danger, in his blind ambition Cortez or-
dered all the vessels of his fleet dismantled, and after every
movable thing had been placed on shore, the ships were
scuttled and sunk. At this bold act the soldiers were struck
with consternation, for they perceived how hopeless was their
expectation of ever again returning to their friends unless
Providence protected them in all the perilous marches which
lay before them, and which the majority of the company
contemplated with feelings of despair. But their destiny
lay entirely in the hands of their leader, whom it were no
avail now to oppose, and their feelings of insubordination
gave place to a blind obedience, which was directly aroused
to enthusiasm and devotion by a thrilling speech which
Cortez delivered to pacify his men.

On the 15th of August, 15 19, Cortez had so far completed
his preparation for the great march to the interior that he
brought up his little army in review, and after putting them
through many military evolutions, addressing them again
in the most impassioned manner, appealing alike to their


cupidity and religious zeal, he marched out of the town
where he had formed a flourishing settlement, and set his
face towards the capital of Mexico. His force consisted of
400 Spaniards, armed as already described, fifteen cavalry-
men, and seven pieces of artillery. The rest of his party he
left at the garrison at Vera Cruz, many of whom were sick
or disabled, and the others were required for the defense of
the place. But the cacique of the Totonacs furnished
him with 2,300 men, a majority of whom, however, went as
porters to the expedition, to carry burdens and to draw the
artillery. At the head of this considerable force, Cortez set
out upon a career of cruelty and bloodshed positively un-
paralleled in American history, as we shall see.


Flaming meads and waving meadows stretched away al-
most as far as the eye could reach on either side of the road
over which Cortez marched his troops towards the magnifi-
cent capital of the Mexicans. At brief intervals Indian
villages were passed, out of which came the wondering
population stricken with amazement at the military proces-
sion as it sped swiftly by. On elevated sites, commanding
lovely prospects, might be seen beautiful villas of rich
natives, which betrayed the marvelous wealth and unex-
ampled productiveness of the country. It was not until
the fourth day that they reached the mountain slopes of
the Cordilleras, at the foot of which they entered a large
and populous town, called Naulinco, which was distinguished
not only for its numerous population, but also for its
many massive temples, upon whose altars sacrifices of human
bodies were made many times every year. At sight of these
the indignation of Cortez was again aroused, and he would
have proceeded to demolish both the idols and the temples
but for the restraint that lack of time put upon him. He
was, therefore, content to erect in the broad plaza of the
place a giant cross, as a memorial of his visit.

The route now lay up the mountain side, and it was not

until the third day, over rugged paths and assailed by fierce

storms of wind, that they reached a table-land seven thousand

feet above the sea. But at this elevation they found the

country as luxuriant with fields of maize, and as populous



with towns and villages as the level lands over which they
had before passed. On the westward side of this table-land
was located the city of Tlatlanquitepec, the architecture of
which was vastly more imposing than that of any place the
Spaniards had seen. The houses were nearly all built of
stone, much of which was exquisitely carved and of rocks
of extraordinary size. But more wonderful than these
structures were thirteen enormous temples which attested
the religious fervor of the people. While the sight of
these buildings excited wonder and amazement, the Span-
iards were appalled by the spectacle of one hundred
thousand human skulls, piled up in the form of a pyramid,
and exhibited as an evidence of the devotion of the citizens
to their gods.

The people of the city received Cortez with cold formality
and endeavored to persuade him against visiting the Mexi-
can capital. But he was not to be thus deterred from his
purpose, and would have desecrated the temples and des-
troyed the idols of those debased people, as he had done
before, had not a priest, a prudent father, named Olmedo,
who accompanied him, showed the rashness of such a

After a rest of five days in Tlatlanquitepec, the march
was resumed over a beautiful roadway that ran along a
transparent stream of water and an unbroken line of Indian
villages. Fifty miles further brought them to the city of
Xalacingo, which was on the frontier of a very powerful
nation, called the Tlascalans, who were not only numerous
but so warlike that they had successfully resisted every
attempt of the Mexican Emperor at their subjugation.
Every man among them was a warrior, holding himself in
readiness for service at any instant, and bloody battles were
of constant occurrence between them and the Mexicans,
by which they had been able to maintain their independence.


Appreciating the importance of an alliance with such a
valorous people, Cortez rested several days at Xalacingo,
and sent an embassy of Totonacs with a courteous message
to the chief of the nation, soliciting permission to pass
through his country. Contrary to his expectation, the em-
bassy was not a success, for having had information of
the landing of the Spaniards, who were represented as being
armed with thunder and clad with wings, and been informed
of the desecration of the temples and the destruction of the
gods wherever they went, the Tlascalans seized the ambas-
sadors and were determined to sacrifice them to their gods.
But by some means, which history does not explain, the
four ambassadors contrived to make their escape, came back
with all speed to the camp of the Spaniards, and made re-
port of the cruel manner in which they had been received.
A less bold man than Cortez would have hesitated to at-
tempt a passage through the country with so small a force
in the face of such a number of powerful warriors as the
Tlascalans were able to muster. But he seems never to
have been moved by any feelings of fear, but rather by a
consuming ambition which did not allow him to hesitate
before any obstacle. Lifting high the standard of the Holy
Cross, Cortez, again appealing to his soldiers in the name of
God, resumed his march towards the country which he had
been forbidden to enter.

A few miles brought them in view of a solid wall of ma-
sonry, extending to the right and left, through valleys and
over hills, until lost to view. It was constructed of immense
blocks of stone with a base fully twelve feet in thickness,
narrowing at the top to half that breadth, and strengthened
at intervals with castellated parapets, in which respect it
bore a striking resemblance to the great Chinese wall, and
that it was built for a like purpose was evident. To the grate-
ful surprise of the Spaniards they found the main gate


undefended, nor did their approach seem to have been
heralded ; for no Indians were to be seen until an entrance
had been secured, and the march continued towards the city.
Suddenly, from behind the hills and out of the woods dashed
a large force of Indians, who attacked the Spaniards with
the greatest fury, and succeeded in killing two of the cavalry
horses and wounding several of the invaders before Cortez
really comprehended his danger. For the moment the
Spaniards were thrown into dismay, so splendid had been
the discipline and military tactics of the Indians. But his
somewhat distracted force was directly rallied by Cortez,
who quickly ordered the artillery brought into position, and
opening fire, a terrible storm of grape-shot went tearing
through the ranks of the Indians, dealing such dreadful car-
nage that they were instantly thrown into confusion and re-
treated, leaving six thousand of their dead upon the field.
This decisive defeat of the Tlascalans resulted to the very
great advantage of Cortez, for from their ranks he recruited
nearly a thousand warriors, and the whole nation promptly
acknowledged their fealty to the conqueror.

But, though Cortez subjugated the people about Xala-
cingo, he was yet to encounter other bodies of these people,
who were to offer him an obstinate resistance. The recruits
which he obtained were therefore carefully drilled, and the
Totonac allies were also made effective by a discipline
which readily made them available as soldiers. Cortez rec-
ognized the necessity of having every man under him,
whether porter or servant, sailor or soldier, ready for service
in case necessity called. Occasion soon arose to justify and
commend this wise precaution. A five days' march after
his battle with the Tlascalans brought him to a lovely
valley, where to his astonished gaze he saw the enemy
drawn up in battle array, and in such numbers that their
boundary on either side could not be perceived.


It was not until late in the afternoon that Cortez stretched
his tent and posted sentinels to watch the foe, feeling cer-
tain that on the following morning he would be required
to give battle to an enemy whose strength he was unable
to estimate. Two of the chiefs whom he had captured at
the first battle informed Cortez that the foe before him
consisted of five divisions of ten thousand men, and that
each division was under the command of a chief, and des-
ignated by a distinct uniform and banner. With the hope
of averting a dreadful calamity, Cortez sent his captive
chiefs with a conciliatory message to the enemy, asking per-
mission to pass unmolested through their country and de-
claring that he had no designs against the Tlascalans. But
to this a fierce reply was returned, to the effect that they
would not only resist his passage through the country, but
that if he attempted it they would offer the hearts of the
Spaniards as a sacrifice to their gods and then devour the
bodies, according to the custom with which they treated
all their prisoners. It was a supreme moment for the
Spaniards, and fear of the result caused a solemn feeling to
brood over the camp, and in the night, during the still
watches, the voice of prayer arose from every tent, for God
alone seemed able to deliver them from their desperate
situation. Cortez nevertheless at no time exhibited any
alarm, but went about among his troops encouraging them
by every means he was able to put forth, and prophesying
the certain defeat of the Indians, whose power, he declared,
would be speedily dissipated by the arm of the Almighty.

At an early hour, on the 5th of September, the blare of
bugles aroused the sleepless camp, and the order was given
to prepare for action. Even the wounded men that were
barely able to stand in rank with assistance were compelled
to do such duty as they were capable of performing, w^hile
the recruits from the two Indian nations were stationed in


the center, supported on either wing by the Spaniards,
and the cavahy was spcnt forward to bring on the battle.
As the sun rose over the Cordilleras a magnificent view
was presented : stretching away across the valley from hill
to hill, and covering a plain fully six miles square, was the
vast army of the Tlascalans, sturdily awaiting the moment
for the conflict. The native warriors were gorgeously dec-
orated with feathers and paint and other appliances of
barbaric pomp, and as they were separated in divisions,
Cortez was now able to form a correct estimate of their
number, which he declares was fully one hundred thousand.
Their weapons were slings, arrows, javelins, clubs and
wooden swords, while flints were imbedded in their wooden
weapons, which made them extremely effective in close
combat. Scarcely had Cortez put his troops in motion
towards the valley when a vast field of natives began to
move with celerity, but military precision, towards their ad-
vancing foe, and in a few moments the attack was begun
by such a discharge of arrows and darts from the Tlas-
calans as to fairly becloud the sky. The armor worn by
the Spaniards was scarcely a sufficient protection against
such a hail of weapons, and many fell sorely wounded.
But employing tactics which had served him so efficaciously
in his first battle, Cortez brought up his pieces of artillery
and opened a fire of ball and grape-shot upon the astonished
natives, which slaughtered them in astonishing numbers at
each discharge. But so desperate was their courage that
the Tlascalans, while betraying amazcfment, rushed in and
filled up the gaps made by the cannons, and regardless of
the rain of death that was now mowing down thousands
every moment, they continued valorously the unequal fight.
On every side the dead lay piled up in ghastly confusion,
while of the Spaniards every horse was wounded and seventy
of the men were severely injured, and nearly every one had


been struck by some of the flying missiles. The chief of the
Tiascalans, at last seeing how futile it was to contend any
longer with an enemy which he now believed was fighting
by the aid of supernatural weapons, sounded the retreat.
But in retiring, the same discipline that had distinguished
their advance characterized the present movements of the
natives, who left the Spaniards with little more glory than
the mere satisfaction of having routed their enemies, for
exhausted with the long and severe fighting, and maimed,
wounded and discouraged, the victors sought repose upon
the grass, too nearly depleted of physical strength and
ambition to erect tents for their protection. During the
day a storm arose, and the temperature fell so low that the
sufferings from cold were even greater than from the wounds
that the soldiers had received. The previous night they
had slept little or none through fear of the results of the
following day, and the weather was now so inclement that
they were unable to obtain the rest and refreshment which
they so sorely needed. To discouragement a mutinous
feeling succeeded, and the expedition was again upon the
point of disbandment through the open threats of more
than half the number to abandon a course which seemed so
hopeless, and which must, if persisted in, bring irreparable
calamity upon the whole.

Our surprise is exceedingl}^ great when reading the re-
ports furnished by Cortez, and a comrade named Diaz, who
seems to have been historiographer of the expedition, to
learn that in this bloody contest, in which it is said thirty
thousand of the enemy were slain, only one Spaniard was
killed upon the field of battle, and that all their sufferings
arose from wounds which in every case healed, so there was
no substantial loss in the fighting force which Cortez had

Again the influence of Cortez was exerted to quiet the


fears and mutinous spirit of his followers, and his success in
this effort was as signal as it had been on many previous
occasions ; for when he was unable to arouse them by as-
surances of the glory that they would obtain, as well as the
wealth which awaited the expedition at its conclusion, he
had the unfailing resource of appealing to their religious
zeal, which in every instance brought such immediate
change that from depression the most mutinous rallied
again to his standard with assurances of their renewed devo-
tion. On the day succeeding the battle, Cortez armed some
of his soldiers sufficiently to make a foray among the neigh-
boring villages, which he despoiled and burned, taking also
400 prisoners, about one-half of whom were women. He
then pitched his tents and gave his soldiers an opportunity
for the rest which they had not had since leaving Xalacingo.
But on the second day he was surprised by an army very
much larger than that with which he had contended in the
unfortunate valley, and which, he declares, exceeded 150,000
in numbers. This enormous force had been collected
through the extraordinary exertions of neighboring caciques,
who brought their legions from every direction, and ap-
peared in front of Cortez without any intimation having
preceded them of their intention. Almost as quickly as
they came in sight this immense army made a fierce charge,
and descended upon the Spaniards in such awful might that
Cortez was completely overwhelmed. Everything for a
while was in inextricable confusion, the natives and the
Spaniards grappling in a deadly contest which would have
meant annihilation to the Spaniards had not the artillery
been brought promptly into action, and its thunders in-
spired the natives with a new terror. For four hours this
desperate battle continued, at the end of which time, to
the surprise of Cortez himself, so many thousands of the
natives had been slain that the rest drew off in hopeless


discouragement, feeling that their gods had abandoned them
and were fighting upon the side of their enemies. When
night came on, Cortez made another foray among the vil-
lages several miles in the surrounding country, and after
pillaging them of their contents, burned three thousand
houses and took many of the inhabitants prisoners. Con-
trary to his previous treatment, he kindly cared for his
captives, and so amazed the natives by his humanity, that,
disheartened, the Tlascalans were ready to sue for peace.
Accordingly, they sent a delegation of fifty of their principal
men, bearing a great quantity of valuable presents to Cortez,
and conveyed through a respectful message their desire to
form an alliance with him. But misinterpreting the pur-
pose of their visit, and suspecting some treachery intended,
which seems to have been thoroughly justified by the second
attack that had been made upon them, but with inexcus-
able cruelty he ordered the ambassadors to be seized and
their hands cut off, and thus mutilated he sent the unfortu-
nate victims back to the Tlascalan camp with a defiant

Subdued by terror and cruelty, and the supposed super-
natural power of the Spaniards, the chief of the Tlascalans
made no further resistance, and with a numerous retinue
entered the Spanish camp, with abject proffers of submis-
sion, promising also to prove as faithful in peace as he had
been bold in war. Thus yielding themselves as vassals to
the Spaniards, they completed an alliance with Cortez, and
the two armies thus amalgamated proceeded together to
the great city of Tlascala, and there concerted measures
against their common enemy, the Mexicans. Tlascala is
represented by Cortez to have been one of the most impos-
ing cities that his eyes ever rested upon, more nearly re-
sembling Grenada, the great Moorish capital, than any other

place that he had seen. Upon their entrance to the city,


they were met by an enthusiastic multitude, who came out
to greet them with barbaric music, precedinci native war-
riors gayly decorated with variegated plumes and clothed
in the splendors of half civilization. Among the other sur-
prises which awaited Cortez was the splendid police regula-
tion of the city and the many luxuries which the people
enjoyed ; for here he found barber-shops, and baths with
hot and cold water, broad plazas in which native bands of
musicians discoursed every evening, flowing fountains, and
seemingly all the accessories of a highly refined people.
On the way, however, fifty-five of the Spaniards had died
of wounds received in the latter engagement, while the
most of his army was so fatigued that palanquins had to be
provided to convey them. Those that were wounded had
also received small attention, as the injuries could only be
dressed with the fat cut from the dead bodies of the natives,
the result of which treatment Cortez unfortunately neglects
to record. But upon reaching Tlascala every comfort was
immediately provided, not only for the care of the sick but
for the perfect rest of the fatigued, while provisions were in
such abundance that the army forgot their troubles in the
luxurious entertainment which they now received. It is
estimated by Cortez that at least thirty thousand people
appeared daily in the market place of the city, and that
the population of the province which he had invaded num-
bered not less than 500,000.


Grand and imposing was the entrance of Cortez into
Tlascala, while so magnificently hospitable was his enter-
tainment that opportunity was offered, not only for ac-
quainting himself with the resources of the empire, but for
persuading the Tlascalans to join him in the enterprise of
overthrowing Montezuma. So well did he succeed that the
entire fighting force of the province was placed at his dis-
posal, and preparations were begun on a gigantic scale for
the invasion. In the meantime, however, Montezuma had
been made acquainted with the result of Cortez* conquests,
and his fears being excited that the gods were in some
mysterious way working to accomplish his ruin, with the
hope of averting such fate the Emperor sent an embassy of
five noblemen, accompanied by a retinue of 200 prominent
men of the empire, to visit the Spanish conqueror; nor did
he forget to send with them such valuable presents that the
gold which they brought is alone estimated to have been
equal in value to $50,000. Accompanying the presents
was a message couched in the most respectful language,
beseeching him not to invade the empire and pledging the
assistance of the Emperor in any undertaking which Cortez
might have in mind that did no violence to his own terri-
tory. Surprised and angered at this sudden change in the
disposition of Montezuma, whose invitation to visit the
capital had only a few weeks before been extended to him,
Cortez returned a reply full of courtesy, but declaring his
intention nevertheless to visit the Mexican capital in obe-



dience to liis sovereign's order, and intimating that he
should do so regardless of the wishes of the Emperor, even
to the extent of employing force and laying waste the

Before departing from Tlascala, Cortez had carried his
crusade against idol worship and the cruel practices of the
natives so far that he prevailed upon his new allies to dis-
charge the prisoners whom they had in the temples fatten-
ing for the next sacrifice; and he also obtained from them
a promise to discontinue such heathen practices thereafter,
a promise, however, which was no longer kept than the stay
of Cortez in their capital continued, for almost immediately
upon his departure the old orgies and bloody rites were re-
instituted, and their altars flowed with the blood of the
offerings of hundreds of victims almost before the sound of
the tramp of the vanishing Spaniards had died away.

But Cortez nevertheless left some of the seeds of the
Church, by receiving into baptism five beautiful maidens
who had been offered to him by the chief of the province,
as wives for his soldiers. These, having been first formally
baptized and received by the Church, were left with one
priest to propagate the faith in Tlascala, while Cortez at
the head of an immense army continued his journey towards
the Mexican capital. About this time also Cortez received
a second embassy, with even richer presents than those

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 37)